Decoding the barcode tattoo

I currently have six tattoos. The one that people notice the most and always ask about is the one I hate to talk about. On the back of my neck, is a barcode tattoo with the numbers “10062013” across the bottom. The numbers correspond to my mother’s death date, but the barcode itself symbolizes the worst period of my life. When people ask why I would get a barcode, I always respond as if reading from a script, “It represents a time in my life where I felt that as a female I was nothing more than a product on a shelf. I have since moved past that way of thinking though, so I chose to put it on my back where it will hopefully stay behind me.” I then smile awkwardly as they marvel at the symbolism and applaud my “depth.” Every time I answer this, my heart races as I fear they will ask more details on this time in my life. Because, honestly, there are some days I find myself right back in the summer of 2015. The summer I lost my virginity because I could not make myself say “no.” 

He was a co-worker I barely knew who had a bad day one day and asked me to meet him at the park down the street. It was late. I listened to his story then he started kissing me, and then he just did not stop there. I have this broken mentality that if I do not have a clear, logical reason to say “no,” then it is not valid, and my voice gets trapped in my throat. I am not sure why, but “I don’t want to” or “I’m not ready” is not valid. Instead, I laid there praying for it to end and told myself that as a female, I was only worth my body, so I may as well sell to the highest bidder. Allow me to clarify. By this, I do not mean prostitution or a monetary bidding of any kind. I meant that he was a genuinely great guy: kind, smart, had plans for his life, had his life together, attractive. I was terrified, disgusted, distraught, confused. After, I did not know what to do. All I knew is I was scared and alone. So, I did nothing. I genuinely believed that the problem was just me, that I was just broken somehow. In an instant, I became so powerless that I just stayed with him and let it continue for months because I was unable to say “no” to anything anymore. 

I never told him the truth of how I felt, and to this day, I do not blame him nor harbor any ill feelings towards him. The way I see it is he did not know any better than I did. It was not until freshman year of college when I attended a mandatory sexual assault presentation that I heard the phrase “Consent is a free, clearly given ‘yes,’ not the absence of a ‘no.’” While sitting in the back of the Student Union Theatre, the lightbulb finally went off in my head. I realized why I was so miserable and that I was not a broken human being for not “enjoying” it. Until very recently, I believed that although technically it was rape, it was not “rape.” I was among the majority that delegitimizes sexual assault if the victim does not kick and scream, but only in my own case. Yet, writing that now, I still feel like I’ve written a lie and that I am trying to make something more out of nothing. I am not sure if that is because I do not want it to be true or if I am afraid of how I think people will perceive me. I know that I could wake up tomorrow and delegitimize my experience again. It is an ongoing internal conflict.

Since having this epiphany, I have grown tremendously and opened up more than I ever believed I could. However, I still have not moved past the events of that summer, the fear, the sorrow, the anxiety, the confusion, the emptiness. I am often unintentionally sexist. I do not approach nor start conversations with males. I am extremely uncomfortable around men. My skin crawls at the touch of a member of the opposite sex, no matter how benign. The thought of being with someone in a sexual way makes my stomach churn. Through the years, I have fortunately started some development on resolving these discomforts, but I know I have a long way to go. So, I will continue to hope that one day I can be with someone.

This is not something I like to talk about. Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever told anyone anything beyond “I am not a virgin, but I have never wanted to have sex.” Writing it now, my hands are shaking, my chest is tight, and I just want to vomit. To think, my Editor-in-Chief actually said, “Well you have an angle and not a rant, so the hard part should be over” when I propositioned this opinion. However, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to share my experiences to let women, and men, know that they are not alone. Hopefully, I can gain some closure through the process as well.

A few points to all readers: Silence is not consent. It is OK to not be ready. It is not the victim’s fault. Speak up and tell someone. If you do not like to talk about it, do not tattoo it on your body.

I know how scary it can be. I know the pain of thinking it is your fault or that you are damaged goods. It is an incredibly heavy burden to bear, but you cannot allow it to crush you. I am not yet sure if things will all be OK in the end, but I do know that things become more manageable with perseverance. Do not give up, not on yourself, not on love, not on happiness, not on life. The only true strength is resilience.